Middlesbrough Restaurant Week is back by popular demand for a third year. The feast of culinary delights has proved a huge hit with diners, who can take their pick of the town’s cosmopolitan cuisine ranging from Indian to Portuguese and noodles to the beloved parmo.
This year’s event runs from Monday, May 2 to Sunday, May 8, giving diners a new look at Middlesbrough’s foodie scene with a great range of special offers and exclusive menus.
We are going to take a closer look at all the participating eateries through the lens of Tracy Hyman and interviews from the management.
We begin with the glitz and glamour of America on Tees, Pixies Diner. Owner Rachel Whitehead talks corn dogs, Grease and pancakes with bacon and tells us about her special offers in May.
Rachel: Yes I enjoy Restaurant Week. The past two that we have been involved in have both been a great hit, so we jumped on board again.
Q: Since it began three years ago I have noticed that there seem to be more and more restaurants and variety in Middlesbrough.
R: I think it is a good idea for those that have not tried it before to try out discounted price or get a bit of a special deal.
Q: It is obvious that peoples habits are changing these days and people eat out a lot more.
R: Yes it just shows when you look down Linthorpe Road the amount of restaurants that are opening and it is a good because there is a lot of variety as well.
Q: What will Pixies be offering for Restaurant Week?
R: We like to try some specials on it, so people can try the offer we have on the specials menu. This year we have bit the bullet and decided to do a Pixie Parmo. So we will see how the public respond to that.
We are going to do the regular, every Italian or French restaurant do a parmo in Middlesbrough so why not an American one. We are going to do the good old regular parmo to keep all the die hards happy and then there is the Evil Pixie Parmo that has our Evil Pixie hot sauce on it. So that will be a bit of a twist on the hot shot parmo and then we are going to do a maple syrup and bacon parmo, which I have tried and it is amazing.
Q: That sounds an interesting mix of flavours.
R: People like pancakes with bacon and maple syrup on and it is really nice in a parmo.
Q: Is that unusual mix of flavours one of the attractions of Pixies, especially for the breakfasts?
R: Yes, the American breakfast is probably one of our best sellers. People like to try the pancake with bacon, it is really American. There are not a lot of places where you can get something like that. So it is very popular.
Q: Are you open right through from breakfast time?
R: Yes, 9.30am to 7pm.
Q: Do you get people coming in right through the day?
R: Yes. This morning at breakfast we were rushed but now in mid afternoon it is quieter so we get lunch at this time of the day and get stocked up for later on tonight.
Q: Are weekends good?
R: Saturdays and Sundays are really busy; we do get a lot of the younger crowd in. And a lot of families. Summer, Easter and Christmas holidays we are packed out.
Q: Does everyone like the themed environment in here?
R: Yes people really do like the theme, it is bright and colouful and a little bit different. The music is a little bit different although it is modern music but it maybe sounds a bit older.
Q: And you have so much on the walls too.
R: We have got all the authentic number plates; they have actually been on American cars. Sitting in booths is a little bit different and the kids love that they get their food served in either a pink Cadillac or a yellow taxi. That is a winner.
Q: It is a bit like being in to a film set.
R: We have tried to take a bit from Grease and Pulp Fiction and anything a little bit retro.
Q: Happy Days from when I was younger.
R: Well, we have got a juke box. Kick it if it stops working. (laughs).
Q: It is great to walk down Linthorpe Road and then you step inside and it is like crossing the Atlantic, into a different world.
R: It is yes. You are not in Middlesbrough anymore… until you see the parmo.
Q: You must have loved all those films yourself?
R: I did yes. I loved Grease growing up. Even Grease II but don’t tell anyone and I loved the songs but also my dad, my business partner, he really loved that era of music, Dreamboats and Petticoats and all the movies.
Q: It is a little bit of glam.
R: It is yes and it is quite popular, everyone likes to step back in time a little bit.
R: Oh yes definitely, if it wasn’t for the food people wouldn’t come in I don’t think. The milkshakes are really popular, thick creamy milkshakes made with artisan ice cream, not the powdered type. Our home made burgers, pulled pork bagels. The majority of the food is home made. We make our own chillies, our spices of the wings, chicken wings, chicken burgers. It is family home cooked food.
Q: That is really appreciated I think that you can get home cooked food.
R: Yes, you know what is going in it then don’t you really.
We also do a small selection of beers. Including Coors Lite, that is actually Canadian.
We also do the corn dogs, that is very different.
Q: You mentioned corn dogs to me when we chatted last year. You said you were the only place doing them in Middlesbrough.
R: I think we still are. The recipe is off a friend of mine from New York. I travelled with her in Australia. It is a New York recipe.
Q: What exactly is a corn dog?
R: It is like a hot dog in a doughnut but it is not that sweet. The corn batter is spongy like a doughnut but it is battered because it is deep friend. It is strange. It comes on a hot dog stick. It is really nice. But regulars come in for a corn dog because they know it is the only place they can get one. Everyone should try one. Like, everyone should try pancakes and bacon. Just once. Don’t be scared of it.
Q: There seem to be a lot of mixes of sweet and savoury.
R: Yes, we just mix it up. A couple of people have mentioned chicken and waffles to me on facebook, having been to America. So we made it, to see what it is like and it was amazing. So I might put that in the specials and it might be on next year’s Restaurant Week.
Q: I am lucky enough to have been to New York and attended a baseball game and everyone has breaks for hot dogs and the like. It reminds me of that.
R: I would love to go to a baseball game and see the New York Yankees. You see them with the hot dogs and mustard and corn dogs on sticks.
People here like the big tall New York stacker sandwiches they are very popular. Bagels, pulled pork bagels.
Q: Pulled pork seems very popular at the moment.
R: Yes, everyone likes pulled pork. We do our own recipe. It is cooked in the oven for six hours with Dr Pepper. Another sweet and savoury combination. Americans like mixing them together. I love it.
Q: Have you travelled in USA yourself?
R: Yes, I have been to New York but most of my travelling has been in Australia. I went travelling there for a while. When we first had the idea of opening Pixies it wasn’t going to be an American Diner but we wanted to open somewhere different. We were looking at different concepts and then we just put in things we liked. Dad wanted a jukebox. I wanted booth seating. And we thought just go the whole hog and make it look like an American Diner. But it is not a full on American Diner because it has still got the English breakfast and paninis. We try and keep everyone happy.
We wanted the style to really stand out from the other restaurants and coffee shops because there are an awful lot of food places so you need somewhere that stands out.
Q: It screams fun I think.
R: Yes. Another thing that has been picking up a lot is parties. Children’s parties and adult parties. We will either do kids parties because it is bright and colourful and they can have a little dance with their friends at the front and the food comes served in little cars. Or it is people from the era that liked the 40s and 50s, older people like to have their parties here and hear the music and reminisce, whereas in between not so much. So, we appeal to the younger children for the fun factor and then older people because they can reminisce when they used to listen to Frank Sinatra and Elvis.
The older teens and twenties come in but not for parties.
Q: Is Pixies a hit with students? Maybe not for parties.
R: We get a lot of students so we notice when they are not here. That is why we are constantly looking for new things and listening to what people want and changing the menu so we don’t just appeal to students. Figuring out what works and doesn’t.
Q: I have noticed that many people seem to have more time at lunchtime. Not rushing out to grab sandwiches and racing back to offices.
R: Some people do sit in here and have a meeting and have a couple of coffees. We have free wifi in here and people take advantage of that while they are eating. We did try sandwiches but there are a lot of other take out places.
We try all sorts but the main things that work are the American breakfasts, the big burgers, the hot sauce pancakes with bacon.
Q: So, hopefully people will come in during Restaurant Week and try out the offers and enjoy the Pixies experience.
R: We have had people that have come in during Breakfast Week from Middlesbrough but not tried us before and then they will come in again because they have really enjoyed it.
Photos Tracy Hyman
176 Linthorpe Road
Open Monday to Thursday from 9:30am-19:00pm and Friday and Saturday from 9:30am – 21:00pm.
Middlesbrough Restaurant Week – Monday 2nd – Sunday 8th May 2016